Thursday, November 02, 2006

Depression is depressing ...

A friend of mine lives in China. She’s not Chinese by birth but she has a Chinese heart. She fell in love with the land and the people more than a decade ago and has even made a few sacrifices in order to live there. She uses an email newsletter to share some of her experiences and occasionally make observations regarding the people around her.

The tables turned on her recently when someone heard a story on U.S. radio about a Chinese situation and asked her about it. Seems NPR featured the tale of a man who saved people who were attempting to commit suicide by jumping off the Nanjing bridge into the Yangzi River. Chen is about 38 years old, a manager in a company, and he spends his weekends patrolling the bridge and talking people out of jumping, and sometimes manhandling them to keep them from going over.

She writes, “He started this mission (he isn't religious, but this is clearly a mission) during 2003 and has saved 102 persons. He seems to have a gift for knowing who is a candidate for jumping. . . . He has learned how to detect the clues of depression -- lack of purposeful direction, a vacant expression. He strikes up a conversation and tries to get people to connect with him emotionally; this often results in tearful confessions of depression, lack of money, illness, no job, marriage problems, and so forth. Sometimes he takes the people home with him until they are stable. His wife isn't too keen on this, but apparently she puts up with it and, when the person is female, takes care of her.”

After hearing the story and investigating, my friend connected yet another friend who teaches psychology to Chen. As a result, he’s getting some help with his ongoing bridge surveys.

My friend said that she’s learned nearly 250,000 people commit suicide in China every year, one every two minutes. Another 2 million attempt suicide each year. One shocking statistic she found is that 37 percent of those who attempt suicide consider it for less than five minutes, and 60 percent consider it for less than two hours. Suicide has become the main cause of death in persons aged 15-34.

Last week I heard that authorities had found the body of a pastor acquaintance of mine. He lived in another city. I’d done a consulting gig with this man. He’d shared his hopes for his congregation as well as his struggles with depression and alcoholism. I thought his vision was a good one and told him so. I doubted he was the leader who could accomplish it. I didn’t tell him that. He didn’t ask. My hope was that his hope for the future tilted the scales toward the positive in his life. Guess I was wrong.

Depression to the point of suicide is unfathomable to me. But then again, I’m not depressed. I’ve known this disease from afar and close enough to feel its hot breath on the back of my neck. I never see fun runs for it or Labor Day telethons but its victims are legion – those that leave and the hundreds they leave behind.

I don’t blame my pastor friend or my high school best friend (who we also lost to sucide)or all the folks I’ve known who have suffered the day to day life drain that depression brings. I am angry however. But I just don’t know where the anger goes. So for now, it goes here.


juli said...

i think this is a very good place to put it...this is similar to what i've been going through with my aunt. only, she didn't think about it for a couple of minutes-she allowed herself years to fall into it. what do we do with the anger karen? let me know when you figure it out ;)

Finding the Happy said...

Anger is a key ingredient for effective activism. No one wants to talk about mental illness and how debilitating it is for the person who has it and the people who love them, but are rendered powerless in the face of an invisible foe.

some chick said...

"rendered powerless in the face of an invisible foe."

very well said. Rosie O'Donnell (on the long list of women I admire) once wrote on her blog about why people don't come out about their mental illnesses, and I quote:

"because the stigma of having the disease is worse than the disease itself."

I think one of the problems, especially for believers, in acknowledging to others their mental illness, is the response they fear they will get from the Church. The, perhaps if we prayed hard enough or trusted God hard enough or weren't living in such obvious sin, then we would be healed, because depression, etc., being mental illnesses, means they are something than can be overcome by sheer willpower. This, of course, is complete bullshit.

The Body needs to do a better job of addressing our illnesses when they aren't obviously physical - chemical imbalances, weird brain firings, are not something than can be simply willed away. We, as the Body, do a better job of supporting people with say, cancer, than we do those with debilitating mental illnesses. We've come a long way with our attitude toward AIDS, right? I guess you're a good person to ask about that. We need to do better with those of us struggling with the life-destroying effects of poor mental health.